BLOOMINGTON — Life can be unfair.
Faith Wieland could tour the country giving speeches on that topic.
To her credit, the former Central Catholic High School distance running star whose career was cut short by injuries, wants us to know: “It’s never ever too late to try something new.”
That’s what Wieland did in 2015 when she joined the University of Iowa rowing team as a coxswain (pronounced COCK-sun). She ended her collegiate career last month having made three trips to the NCAA Championships.
“I wanted to run in college because that’s what I thought I was best at,” she said. “(Finding rowing) was the biggest blessing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I was meant to find rowing.”
And now we find Wieland preparing to take graduate classes at Oxford Brookes University in England where she will join the rowing team next month.
“I totally think God put this in my life for a reason — just the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met,” she said. “I’m going to carry that with me for the rest of my life and I get to keep doing it, so that’s amazing as well.”
What Wieland does in rowing is unlike any job in sports. Coxswains sit in the stern of a racing boat to coordinate the power and rhythm of rowers.
“It’s a very different role for an athlete to have because you are not physically doing anything,” she said. “You are in charge. You’re basically the coach in the boat so my job was to steer.”
In every race, Wieland fights the urge to grab an oar to help.
“It’s crazy when you think about the job,” she said. “You’re trying to make the boat go fast and you don’t have anything physical to do with it.”
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Wieland arrived in Iowa City when the Hawkeyes were at the bottom of the Big Ten Conference. The past three years, she has helped them place 13th, 11th and 15th in the NCAA Championships.
“My team’s and my coaches’ tenacity for success was really inspiring and I was proud to be a part of that,” she said.
Wieland says coxswains must bond with rowers.
"You have to know them inside and out,” she said. “You have to know what makes them tick; what makes them go faster.”
Wieland says teammates are among her best friends. Several will be at her side next weekend when she weds Quinn Storm. To spot rowers in the wedding party, look for gals over 6 feet tall.
“They are the strongest women I’ve ever met because rowing is both endurance and high power,” Wieland says. “It’s very similar to a 400 in track where you sprint as hard as you can for as long as you can.”
At 5-7, Wieland is small compared to rowers, but she estimates she was the NCAA’s tallest coxswain, who tend to be small to lessen a boat’s weight and wind resistance.
The Hawkeyes trained twice a day for as long as 2½ hours a session to prepare for 2,000-meter races that last about 6½ minutes. Flooding on the Iowa River this spring moved their workouts to either Coralville Reservoir, Lake MacBride or indoors.
Wieland credits rowing for teaching her how to lead and how to adapt, skills that could help her professionally. She has a degree in exercise physiology and she’ll study sports nutrition in grad school where she’ll surely make a boatload of new friends.
Her destiny seemed far different in the fall of 2011 when she placed eighth overall and second among freshmen in the high school state cross country meet. As a sophomore, she ran 14th in cross country and went on to help her 3,200-meter relay team set a school record in track.
Then came two years of foot problems that surgeries couldn’t solve. At the time, it didn’t seem fair, but it wasn’t too late to try something new.